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John Salley: The NBA Champion On Going Vegan For Athletic Performance, Longevity & The Environment (Plus: Why So Many Pro Athletes Die Young)

By September 27, 2015May 23rd, 201914 Comments

“If you’re a professional athlete, and after the game you’re eating at the same place that somebody in the audience is eating at? You’re making a mistake.”

John Salley

It’s one thing when a skinny runner dude starts talking about the benefits of a plant-based diet.

It’s another thing altogether when a 6′ 11″ 4-time NBA Champion tells you it’s a good idea.

Enter John Salley.

Husband, father, athlete, actor, entrepreneur, talk show host, philanthropist, wellness advocate, NBA champion… and vegan.

John was the first basketball player in NBA history to win four championships with three different teams in three different decades — two with the Detroit Pistons (’89 & ’90), one with the Chicago Bulls (’96) & one more with the Los Angeles Lakers (’00). After eleven seasons he retired as a Laker on the 2000 NBA Lakers Championship team. Since his retirement from the NBA, John has worked consistently in television, film, radio, print and new media. For seven years he co-hosted the Emmy-nominated series The Best Damn Sports Show Period (FOX). He then hosted BET’s sports talk show Baller before creating his own show Game On for REELZ. In addition, John is an avid entrepreneur, channeling his enthusiasm for clean eating & advocacy for the vegan lifestyle into an array of ventures, including The Vegan Vine, his California wine brand (who knew some wine wasn’t vegan?), and his Betta Life 21-Day Challenge.

John’s mission is simple: to educate as many people as possible on the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based lifestyle.

This is a fairly free range conversation that takes us inside John’s NBA career; what it was like to play ball at the highest level with guys like Michael Jordan, Isaiah Thomas and Shaq; and how being coached by Phil Jackson, perhaps the greatest coach in basketball history, helped forge his character and inform his post-NBA career success.

We get into the hows and whys of John’s decision to go vegan; his opinion on how most professional athletes eat; why so many professional athletes die young; how he works with both athletes and average folks to change misplaced, normative ideas about the plant-based lifestyle; the importance of yoga and meditation in his routine; and what drives his mission to change the face of global health. A few more topics covered include:

  • forging normative change by example
  • the link between cancer & diet
  • plant-based nutrition for athletes
  • the importance of stepping stone goals
  • warning the NBA about the nutrition risks
  • millennial adaptation to technology
  • making money while you sleep
  • the benefits of meditation
  • John’s stellar NBA career
  • Coach Phil Jackson & team dynamics
  • fragility of reputation & Big Brother

John is an easy guy to love. He is engaging, incredibly charismatic and always entertaining. But behind the playful attitude is a serious message worth heeding.

I sincerely hope you enjoy the exchange.

Peace + Plants,


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Background, Context & Reference:

Notable People Discussed in today’s podcast:

Related Podcasts You Might Enjoy:

Production, music & sound design by Tyler Piatt. Additional production by Chris Swan. Graphic art by Shawn Patterson.

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  • Tommy F says:

    John is such a calm dude, super intelligent and always entertaining. Yet something tells me it’s not just from all the bong cleaning he alluded to during the podcast. He’s aware of who he is and how to navigate a world telling him to be something other than himself. This has informed his ability to be such a great ambassador for veganism over the years. A sage for the cause, with simple logic and testimony of the benefits of how the plant-based diet has served him well. “Finding your gift is the meaning of life. Sharing your gift is your purpose (Pablo Picasso).”

    Loved the story of how Phil Jackson had his championship Bulls meditate holding hands for 45minutes, then went onto a 18 game win streak. I remember that epic winning streak/72win-year, and it’s no surprise that a mindful meditative approach by the Zen Master of coaching is what triggered the streak.

    Sidenote: Rich, your show-notes are completely awesome! I go to them often, when looking to parlay the wisdom from your podcast guests, out deeper into their world. With a stock-house of 180 podcasts under your belt, it’s a virtual RRP Encyclopedia of wisdom. Thank you for all your effort in hoisting this up and keeping it up!


  • wendyweather says:

    I really enjoyed this podcast! I loved the bits of insight John offered into the world of NBA and could have listened to the two of you talk for another hour. Thanks for a great podcast!

  • Kelsey says:

    I know that you mentioned you had trouble digging into John, and weren’t sure it was your best interview – but I thought it was an amazing episode!

    For me, it was one of my favourite of the past 10 recordings for sure.

    Love your stuff, Rich !

  • Patrick says:

    Great podcast! I don’t think you should be disappointed that the conversation wavered off track. The lack of structure and length of time is what allows someone like John to get deep into stories that are so unique and interesting. If you would have tried harder to keep John on track than we would have missed out on some great stories.

  • rachel ward says:

    Couldn’t find an area of this podcast where things might have gotten away from you, but have been looking forward to this podcast and it did not disappoint, LOVE John Salley and love his brand of advocacy. He inspires me to be more out there with my lifestyle. Thanks to you both for a great listen!

  • Andrea Smith says:

    My favorite podcast to date! I loved John’s honesty, brutal, but maybe that is how it should be to push change. He is obviously a brilliant man. Loved the analogies to cars and racing, his insight on the NBA and how that world works, and his entrepreneurship is inspiring.

  • Pete says:

    Rich, that was a really good cast. I thought it was very cool; don’t doubt yourself man! I enjoyed it while I sat in UN traffic jam!

  • Yo Momma says:

    I hated the very end when he said he had to go. What?!?!?!?! NO!!!!!!! I could have listened for 2 more hours. His car can wait – bring him back!!!

    Such a great podcast. I love when he told the story of doing meditation with his teammates and winning 18 games afterwards.

  • Yume says:

    I guess I am the only one who felt Rich’s sentiments on this one? After the David Carter podcast, I was really excited that another vegan athlete was appearing on the podcast. Unlike the Carter episode, this one lacked substance.

  • I didn’t really expect much from this episode, I can’t tell you why, but I just didn’t. Yet the two of you managed to turn my day around. Thank you. Nothing but a pleasure to listen to such a conversation with wonderfully straight forward individual who’s not afraid to speak his mind and stand strong on his views. Keep up the good work Rich!

  • Kim Lillie says:

    Great podcast I wouldn’t second guess yourself, it was like eavesdropping on a conversation between you and John that was off the record!

  • jane says:


  • GadflyRadio says:

    Another favorite! You questioned whether or not you’d delivered a break through connection interview–not your exact words but my interpretation of what you said. Well you did. You showed up as your authentic self and let the conversation flow. What a treat this conversation was to hear.

    This was another one of your greats in my book. It’s a gift for the taking. Thank you.

  • Rich E. says:

    John Salley = awesome

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